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Victoria Hall could be converted into urban farm

Plant life: Victoria Hall, once meant to be a HQ of Arbitrade, could become an urban farm (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

An unused office building in the middle of Hamilton could become a “working urban farm”, according to a planning application.

While few details of the proposal were included in the online file yesterday, the planning application seeks in-principle approval to convert the vacant Victoria Hall into a farm with “various growing and cultivation areas across the various floor levels”.

Colin Campbell, one of the individuals behind the project, said it was still in its early stages but he was optimistic a business model would be created to make it successful.

“If it makes sense – and we have every thought that it will – we are looking at 25 to 30 new jobs,” he said.

“We will be working at creating value in the fullness of time and perhaps putting the company on the Bermuda Stock Exchange so Bermudians can invest in it.”

Mr Campbell said he had long been concerned about food resilience on the island and believed that global climate change will create further challenges for the food supply in the future.

He said that local farmers are also challenged to keep their costs down in the face of storms, variable rainfall and thieves raiding their fields.

Meanwhile, he said grocers and importers work to keep the cost of produce down without worsening quality despite the need to ship them to the island from as far away as Peru.

“They want to provide fresh produce at a good, safe price but the products that they are delivered are challenged with a sometimes ten day time frame to get to the shelf,” he said. “It’s not easy for grocers and the like.”

He argued that urban farming could address many of the issues, growing produce in Spring time conditions throughout the year sheltered from the weather and “night farmers”.

At the same time, he said urban farming would be able to make use of abundant empty office space throughout the City of Hamilton.

Mr Campbell said he had been in discussions about the use of the seven-storey Victoria Hall before crypto firm Arbitrade announced intentions to make the building their headquarters in 2018.

However he said he was approached again about the building after that plan failed to materialise.

Mr Campbell said repurposing the building could be more cost effective than putting up a new structure.

“Bermuda doesn’t have a million people so we have to be careful about our production,” he said.

Mr Campbell said the initial plan would be to use the building to grow fruits such as strawberries, raspberries and blackberries, with the contained environment allowing them to grow year-round and reach store shelves soon after they are picked.

He said he had been assisted in the project by Dutch consulting firm Delphi, noting that despite their relatively small size the Netherlands is one of the world’s largest produce exporters.

Mr Campbell said that while the Government was not involved in the project, he believed it did “follow the thinking” of the Government’s push to bring vertical farming to the island.

Non-conventional farming in vacant buildings was also one of several suggestions included in the consultative draft of the City of Hamilton Plan 2023 as a means of revitalising the city.

Victoria Hall made headlines in October 2018 when it was acquired by Arbitrade through an amalgamation with a local company, the Victoria Hall Company Ltd.

However the building remained vacant and by 2020 the company said it was considering its options.

Last year legal actions linked to the company and allegations of fraud were launched in both the US and Canada.

More recently, Karl Outerbridge, a community activist, suggested that the Bermuda National Library be moved to the empty building to allow it to expand its services and become a community centre.

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Published March 23, 2023 at 3:44 pm (Updated March 24, 2023 at 8:15 am)

Victoria Hall could be converted into urban farm

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